Ooo, look. The Boston Celtics are showing interest in a free-agent shooter.
This time it’s former Cleveland Cavaliers Lamar Stevens, a six-foot-six swingman known more for his defense than his shot (28.1 career 3-point percentage). If the Celtics do sign Stevens to a contract, he would be the 50th wing player on the roster.
That’s an exaggeration, obviously. But it’s also obvious that while the team may have plenty of versatility and floor spacing, the team is missing a key component that basketball teams can never have enough of: size.
The Boston Celtics are well-stocked with swingmen but need more big-man depth
There’s no denying that Celtics president of basketball operations Brad Stevens has had a heck of an off-season. Trading for Kristaps Porzingis was a huge acquisition. And Stevens traded through the NBA Draft like an EF5 tornado, coming away with defensive menace Jordan Walsh, who was one of four draft prospects I targeted as a fit for Boston.
But for all the action Stevens generated, only Porzingis is taller than six-foot-eight. Taylor Funk is six-foot-eight, though some sites list him as six-foot-nine. Dalano Banton, Oshae Brissett, Svi Mykhailiuk, and Walsh all are six-foot-seven. Jay Scrubb, the shooting star of the Celtics Summer League team, is six-foot-five.
This is outstanding wing depth for the team. The problem is Celtics stars Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum are wing players that play heavy minutes. Head coach Joe Mazzulla shouldn’t have any problem resting the Jays this season, but it’s hard to imagine them playing significantly less than the 35+ minutes per game they averaged last season.
Where there could be enough minutes to share would be among the big men because health is a big concern among three of the four.
Robert Williams played just 35 regular season games last year. Porzingis’ lack of durability was well known before he arrived in Boston. And Al Horford is in his 16th NBA season and shouldn’t play heavy minutes like he used to.
Knowing this, why is Stevens loading up with swingmen/shooting? While shooting did fail the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference Finals, the biggest factor was defense. Boston made Miami Heat undrafted free agents Gabe Vincent and Caleb Martin look like All-Stars.
To add Walsh and Brissett to agitate opposing wing players makes sense. But what about inside the paint? For the most part, Miami goes as Bam Adebayo goes. The last two league MVPs, Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid and Denver’s Nikola Jokic, are centers. When healthy, the Celtics have enough depth to defend them.
But “when healthy” is the key. Based on their careers, we can count on Williams and Porzingis to miss games this season. And if anyone is sidelined for an extended period of time, Luke Kornet shouldn’t be the only big man Mazzulla can turn to when in a bind.
The Boston Celtics had some break in case of emergency depth in the G League, but Luka Samanic was signed by the Utah Jazz off the Maine Celtics roster and Mfiondu Kabengele signed to play overseas with AEK Athens in Greece. All that’s left is Reggie Kissoonlal, but he doesn’t appear ready to play in the NBA.
Neemias Queta is a welcomed addition. He was recently cut by the Sacramento Kings and he was at times dominant for the Stockton Kings, Sacramento’s G League affiliate. Queta signed a two-way contract, so he’s likely spending the majority of his time in Maine this season.
Meanwhile, other teams with championship dreams are getting help now. The Los Angeles Lakers won the Christian Wood sweepstakes. For whatever reason, Wood didn’t attract the interest he was hoping for as a free agent. It is unknown if the Celtics showed interest, but Boston should have.
While underweight (214 pounds), the six-foot-10 floor-spacing big man shoots 38% from beyond the arc and has the length to grab boards. In 2021-22 he averaged 10.1 rebounds per game for the Houston Rockets.
The Golden State Warriors are working out Dwight Howard to evaluate his potential fit with the team. And on draft night, they made Trayce Jackson-Davis a Warrior. Jackson-Davis was my top prospect recommendation for the Celtics, but Boston passed on him multiple times. Jackson-Davis has impressed the Warriors enough that they signed him to a four-year guaranteed deal.
Meanwhile, Stevens holds on to the final roster spot, hoping to convert it into something valuable. How did that work out last February, Brad? We’re still waiting for Mike Muscala to make a difference.
Stevens doesn’t need an available roster spot to acquire a veteran who can get the Celtics over the top. It’s even possible that a veteran signed before the season starts can be packaged to acquire a difference-maker. Sometimes, a minimum salary is all it takes to clear the salary match requirements.
A player Stevens should have contacted by now? Nerlens Noel, who was released by the Kings the same day they released Queta. The 11-year journeyman would be solid depth if Williams or Porzingis miss an extended period of time. Based on 100 possessions, Noel still averaged more than 10 rebounds and one block.
Instead, Brad might be enamored with Lamar because they share a last name.
The hard part will be convincing Noel of his potential role because he wants to play. Porzingis’ and Williams’s injury history should be enough to convince Noel to sign with the Boston Celtics. If not, then there has to be some available veteran big man out there who could provide depth in dire situations.
Just not Blake Griffin. Been there, done that.
Yes, we live in an age of position-less basketball. Well, tell me that as a Celtics team of six-foot-eight players is cherry-picked and bullied by bigger teams.
The game has changed, but not enough to render big men obsolete. If the Boston Celtics do add another player to the roster, they should go big, or risk going home before June.